The clerk of Gondolin knocked on the doors of Idril's chambers. He heard laughter from within, and a mellifluous voice said, "Enter!" The high, airy room he entered was entirely blue and white, all its lines drawn towards a wide window. The room's colours harmonized with the view, clear winter sky and pure winter mountains. All the window-shutters were thrown back so that the wind from the mountains poured in, making the room even colder than the unheated libraries. The clerk shivered. Idril and her three red-cheeked handmaidens were no less merry for the chill, and greeted him eagerly. He noted that, though the maids were snug in warm garb, Idril wore only a grey silk gown, and her feet were bare.
"Pengolod - just the fellow! We are bored, this day. Tell us a story, or better yet, any new gossip," said the nearest maiden.
"Sing us a song, instead, something different, and I shall play for us," said the second.
"No, scry me my fortune! Tell me when I shall marry!" The three handmaidens fell about laughing.
Idril tilted her golden head, her white and rose beauty warmed by a smile. "The keenest clerk and loremaster in our city comes to pay his respects, and you ask him for nonsense," she scolded, fondly. "Scatter along, you three. He and I shall bore you even more as we talk of stores and suppers."
"Don't you get to talk about wine, too, as our King's chatelaine?" said one of the maidens. "But you are wise, Idril. Even if the hours are slow, they may be to profit. We shall go and weave for a time."
"We'll be leaving you unchaperoned," trilled the girl who had wanted her fortune told, and the second maiden batted at her with the end of a fur-trimmed scarf. The first maiden pulled at both her friends' sleeves, herding them along. The merry trio left, the last one peeping back through the door to say, "Have no fear - your secrets are safe with us!" before she closed it.
Pengolod was both laughing and shaking his head. "My lady, you should be attended by swans, not such silly geese."
Idril gestured for him to sit beside her on a bench with blue cushions. "I would not wish my dark mood on anyone, let alone my aides," she said, her voice soft with mercy for their silliness. "Let them distract themselves. People are troubled since my father sealed the gates against all coming and going. To elude why they are so restless, they spin tales and gossip. We have given them a little ember of gossip, and I hope it amuses them." Her voice hardened. "What is the news from my father's councils? Might the gates be opened again?"
Pengolod sat down, brushing his long black hair over one shoulder. "The same as last time. There was no change." Idril sighed at that, and Pengolod opened the ledger. "The reason is writ clear here, my lady. We have had some hungry winters in the past, but now Gondolin is well supplied. The coal of Anghabar fires the iron stoves made by the smiths, and the city is warmed and lit without having to hew down trees. We have been able to put more of the Tumladen's land to tame beasts and tillage. The king said that there was no need to venture forth and risk our city's secrecy."
Idril made a small, ironic sound. "To think it is thanks to the crafts of Maeglin that such a change has come about. We would not be so fortunate without his prospecting. No wonder none dare speak against him in the council." She edged closer, leaning over the ledger to read its figures.
For a time, Idril and Pengolod reviewed the records. A chatelaine needed to know much to manage a noble household. It was not seemly for Idril's father, Turgon, to lay a rich table if the city's stores were low. Idril asked the loremaster many questions far beyond a chatelaine's scope, revealing her care of the Gondolindrim. He answered all as best he could, and told her who might answer questions that eluded him. When she began to ask about gear of war, he ventured a query of his own. "Your kinsman Glorfindel could answer you better in that," Pengolod said, "And you can trust him. Lady, do you really think we are on the edge of such peril?"
She looked at him, her cornflower-blue eyes set in sadness. "Few think as I do, Pengolod. If I was an elf-man, and might sit on the council, I would say --" There came a hard knock at the door, and Idril sat bolt upright. "Only one knocks like that; my cousin and your prince," she murmured. She raised her voice, clear as a bell, to cry, "Enter!"
Maeglin, entering, blinked for a moment in the bright room, then recovered himself, wrapping his dark cloak around him. "You keep a cold chamber, Idril."
"Oh! I am sorry," she said, with icy sweetness. "I had forgotten that you cannot stand the cold. Was it so much warmer in Nan Elmoth in winter, cousin?"
Maeglin snorted, "Not in the least. Say rather that I am used to the greatest heat. I came to invite you to the forge, in fact. Turgon will come to see us forge the last bar of the new Gate of Steel. Very harsh work, but well worth it, to guard one as fair as yourself. I would be well pleased if you would come."
"Let me ring for someone to set a fire while I consider," said Idril, standing and going into the next room. Maeglin's eyes swept his cousin's back as she left, lingering on the fall of her bright hair. Pengolod realized had never seen the two of them alone. Idril was always garlanded with a retinue of fair maids, and their paths most often crossed in courtly business or great company. To see the two alone, Idril was icy while Maeglin smouldered like one of his coal-fired forges. It made him wonder what each meant to the other. Was Idril jealous that her cousin, younger far, sat on the council? Turgon tried to shield Idril from every trouble, cherishing his daughter: she acquiesced, not wishing to distress the father she loved, nor go against the word of her king. Or perhaps Maeglin, fathered by the darkest of Moriquendi, resented Idril's unblemished family. Many of the Gondolindrhim were of mingled kindreds. Pengolod wondered if he, half-Sindar himself, might cheer Maeglin with a kind word.
Before Pengolod could speak, Maeglin turned a penetrating glare on him, and acknowledged him at last. "For a vassal, you sit close by my cousin. Don't get ambitions above your station, clerk," Maeglin said.
If that's the way it is, thought Pengolod, snapping the ledger shut. "I cannot help the station to which I was born, my lord. Who can?" He folded his hands into a narrow tower and chose his next words carefully. "As you say, I earn my bread as a clerk, my lord. Those duties are simple, and I do not seek to impose. I never need to trouble you noble smiths for anything. All I need is a handful of quills and some vellum, to write out our histories and the tales of our days - and at times I note who gets their requisitions fulfilled."
They looked at each other; lord and subject on one level, smith and book-keeper on another. The latter won out, and Maeglin bestowed a grudging smile. "I see why they call you the Wise. I shall not forget your words." Pengolod silently resolved not to forget Maeglin's words either, and to scrutinize the smiths' records later that day.
Idril returned, then. She had swathed her slim form in a concealing blue cloak. Lightly, she said, "I cannot seem to find anybody. They are all off weaving, I believe. About the forging, I shall join my father, and we shall come together."
Although Maeglin looked put out, he answered, "Excellent. But you need not wait until then. Visit any time, and you will see how swiftly we might make something fair for you." A cutting breeze blew into the room, and Maeglin went towards the door. "That gives me an idea. I shall have a stove made for you and sent here, to keep you warm." He turned to Pengolod, and his voice was silky. "Our good clerk will not grudge my lady the coal for it, I am sure." Then Maeglin bowed to Idril and left, silent for an elf-man who wore half-armour.
Idril glared at the door Maeglin had shut, and pulled the cloak tighter about her. "I do not need your gifts, Maeglin," she muttered.
Pengolod opened the ledger again, rustling its pages more than necessary. "I could come back later?"
Idril released the blue cloak, letting it swirl loose around her. "No, no. You took the time to come to me. We should finish our work."
"I believe we were discussing the council?" Pengolod suggested, still curious about Idril's thoughts.
"Ah, yes, what would I say if I might." She spoke crisply, as if her cousin's brief presence had strengthened her own will. "I would say to my father, do not deny the world we live in! Morgoth grows stronger yet. Mayhap our doom awaits, not in the cruel wilds, but here where we think ourselves safe. But I know from you, Pengolod, and from others that my father will not heed any who warn, not Glorfindel, not I."
"Do you count this foolish?" said Pengolod.
"It is not so simple. My father denies the suffering of the Helcaraxe, and tries to redeem the death of my mother, by preserving us all. I remember how he saved me from the ice. Forgive Turgon his weakness and his grief," Idril said. "But I, I do not forget why Turgon's house dared the ice: for the curse that weighs us, and for vengeance against Morgoth. The winter wind keeps that sharp for me. Maiden though I am, I will not refuse to face the evil of our days." She gazed out the window, looking beyond the encircling peaks to the trace of darkness along the horizon, a hint of the fumes of Angband. Pengolod bowed his head, seeing her who was shielded and held aside as the King's daughter as the most worthy in the city, and the most brave.
Idril sat down, and her shoulders drooped, weary with her burdens. She repeated, "I do not forget. But it is hard, to grieve and be wary ever." She glanced again out the window, then at the door where Maeglin had left. Her next words surprised Pengolod. "Make me laugh for a moment, if you might. Scry me my fortune. Tell me when I shall marry..."
Pengolod thought of her first words to him, speaking of her dark mood. With a gentle expression, he leaned over to a low table, disarrayed with cups the maidens had left there. "Which cup was yours?" She pointed to a goblet that still held a sip of wine. He swirled the cup, rolling the lees within it, watching how they ran. This was the least of ways to scry, most suited to mocking. Pengolod spun the most flattering tale he could to make the sad lady smile, and to clear himself of Maeglin's aspersion.
"Not for twenty years and seven, my lady. When you do, it shall be a tall warrior from the West, with golden hair like the rays of Arien, and you shall have a son who shall be the very star of your life," Pengolod announced.
Idril's sad eyes creased and sparkled as she smiled broadly. "Ah, you do spin pretty fancies! I shall tell my maidens that, and they will laugh louder than our city's bells." Pengolod relaxed, although his jest had made him feel Idril's loneliness all the more - truly, who was there for her? Whatever Idril thought, the lady turned to the loremaster with her soft smile. "Enough fancies for now. Let us finish with the ledger, shall we?" Pengolod found their place in the great book, and they looked to the figures and their tale of plenty again.